The Arkansas Department of Education Charter Authorizing Panel voted in April to revoke a charter issued to a specific charter school with a history of both academic and financial distress. The panel also cited governance issues and questioned the school director’s $138,000 salary.
The school has served grades 6-8 since and had a total enrollment of 171 students in the 2015-2016 school year and 180 students in the 2016-2017 school year. Teachers at the school have an average of 1 year of teaching experience (Arkansas state average is 11 years), and the student teacher ratio is 15-1 (Arkansas state average is 11-1).
Historical data shows student performance well below the state and district average. The school has never achieved academic proficiency. The school demographics reflect the local Little Rock community in terms of low income/SES; however, the school is specifically noted for attracting Hispanic families. The school has a lower number of Special Education students and a higher rate of ELL learners than comparison schools. (Data source: ADE Data Center; Comparison school: Dunbar Middle School)
This was the first decision in the state to revoke a school’s charter, and the panel’s decision was strong with a final vote of 6-1. The decision was then passed onto the Arkansas State Board of Education (SBOE).
Ultimately, the State Board of Education decided to allow the charter to retain its status and keep the charter based on the May 30th meeting. In that meeting, the school presented an argument that their past problems have been addressed, and they maintained that students in the school were making progress academically when compared to similar schools in the local district. This argument was presented by a representative of the Walton-backed Office of Education Policy (OEP) at the University of Arkansas. In addition, the school is showing better financial stability because of money received from the Walton Family Foundation.
The SBOE decision was unanimous despite some qualms expressed openly by board members. In part, the decision was made as the school was positioned as a safe space for Latinos in Southwest Little Rock. The complicated mathematical calculations around student growth offered by the OEP representative also were cited as a reason to continue the charter.
The charter school does have to provide additional reporting on academic performance and growth in the fall. The charter school director agreed to remain in leadership and to work closely with the Arkansas Public School Resource Center – a nonprofit charter school advocacy center backed by the Walton Family Foundation.
It should be noted that the state Board retains control of higher performing schools in the Little Rock district. So, the charter school debate continues in Little Rock.